Saturday, September 7, 2013

3 Ways to Annoy a Fundraiser

Fundraisers get paid to get along with people, so you probably won’t get smacked when you say these things. You probably won’t even see a wince. But you can be sure that you are provoking an internal eye-roll.

1. “I couldn’t do your job. I hate asking people for money.” What, exactly, do you think we do for a living? We’re not out on street corners with cardboard signs. It’s not like asking your father-in-law for help making your car payment. We help people get that great feeling of accomplishment and pride when they participate in something above their daily life. We encourage people to participate in a cause, and help them do it effectively. It’s a great job, working with good people for important causes.

2. “How can you raise money for your cause when there are . . . (people starving/people dying of cancer/homeless people, etc.)?” The fact is, there is no clear prioritization of need, and most people who raise this issue aren’t doing anything to address the people starving or dying or living on the streets, either. Cynically, I might say that they are just using an excuse to avoid parting with money. More generously, perhaps they really do feel powerless to start fixing problems until they can fix the worst problem in the world. Either way, the fact is that most donors give to multiple causes, so they are addressing multiple needs, not just one. Good people understand the need to get involved with issues they care about. Personally, I would not have chosen a Performing Arts Center as the highest need in KC, but Ms. Kauffman chose to build one, and as a result, we have a wonderful civic asset. Who am I to argue with that?

3. “You should put on a . . . (dinner dance/gala/golf tournament, etc.).” Uggh. As a fundraiser, I recognize that some special events are good things, but the vast majority are lousy for the fundraising effort (as opposed to awareness-building and other purposes). There are three main reasons I feel that way. First, they make more money for hotel catering, golf courses and other vendors than they do the charity. I might feel like a hero when I write a $150 check to play a round of golf or attend a dinner, but I’m really only giving 1/3 to 1/2 of it to the cause. Second, they distract from mission-based fundraising. People wind up giving because they are needled by their friends to buy a table, rather than because they care about the cause. Finally, the successes are often false. People report income as profit. People count corporate gifts they would have gotten anyhow as donations to the special event. People round up to the nearest $100,000 when they report the results. And people like me get stuck trying to talk volunteers out of planning the next gala.

Of course, there are many other ways to annoy a fundraiser. “If we can just get everyone in Kansas City to give us $10 . . .” is another one that makes me grit my teeth. “You should get Warren Buffett to support your charity” is a classic. But, for today, the three outlined above ought to suffice if you want to get on a fundraiser’s nerves.

Obligatory Tangentially Related Joke: A fundraiser managed to get an appointment with the richest businessman in town.  The businessman is not known for his generosity, so the fundraiser decides to try using a guilt trip. 
"Mr. Jones," he says, "you own the biggest business here in our town, and yet I've never seen your name connected to any charitable giving.  My records don't show that you've ever donated any money to my cause." 
Mr. Jones looks across his desk. "Do your records show anything about my grandmother, who's suffering from Alzheimer's so badly that she needs expert medical help with her 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that she has no insurance to help with that expense?"
The fundraiser stares blankly.  "I'm sorry, I had no idea."
Mr. Jones continues, "I thought not.  What about my sister?  Do your records have anything in there about my sister, whose husband disappeared last year, leaving her with 5 kids, no income, and a mountain of debt?  Do your records mention anything about Christmas last year at her house?"
The fundraiser just hung his head. 
"So, Mr. Fundraiser, let me ask you a simple question," Mr. Jones continued.  "Why would I give you any money when I don't give any to them?

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